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Full Review
Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason
by James L. Kent
PIT Press 
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Sheldon Norberg, 10/5/2010

After attending James L. Kent’s lecture “The Mechanics of Hallucinations” at the MAPS Psychedelic Science conference, I was left with one question: Given the mechanics, what about the content? Consequently, I was excited to receive his book Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason, a dual study in the nature of psychedelics’ function.

It’s one thing to say that psychedelics turn off the brain’s information filtering system, and quite another to say how. In Part I of his book, “Psychedelic Information Theory”, Kent lays out the multidisciplinary neuroscience that informs his Control Interrupt/Non-Linear Destabilization premise. This premise suggests that the primary action of psychedelics (mostly around 5-HT receptors, since that’s where research exists) is to destabilize neural network switching related to serotonergic and cholinergic visual processing, as well as the auditory, olfactory, and tactile senses.

I’m no neuroscientist, but Kent’s clear trail through volumes of research gave me a solid understanding of how rod and cone vision, phosphenes, the visual information processing rate, and the brain’s pattern-recognition function all come together (or come apart) to modulate entopic (pattern overlay—”Patterns… Colors...”) and eidetic (internal visual world—”Machine Elves“) hallucinatory states.

As our minds destabilize, our standard modes of perception no longer apply, and we enter into states of “neuroplasticity”. While these states can be a goldmine for life review and positive therapeutic change, they are mediated by a number of factors (i.e. set/setting), and they can also be driven to the negative extremes of paranoia and schizophrenia. Part II of the book, “Shamanism in the Age of Reason” extends the conversation into how these states are driven, by wave form mechanics, to internal, communal, and universal states of transpersonal consciousness, always with the question of how the information is valued.

Given our linear culture’s focus on sanity/insanity, folks having religious experiences in the tradition of the saints might be candidates for hospitalization; nevertheless, the sense of non-linear continuity in deep psychedelic states is much the same as has been described by the saints of old. While Kent is careful to point out that the meanings we ascribe to such states are our own, he argues that the states themselves expand from the vibratory quality of sound and its action on psychonauts’ destabilized perception. From the shaman’s drum to the DJ’s turntables, the sonic waveform, (as well as another primal neurotransmission trigger—our sense of smell), carries our perception into boundary-dissolving states of mind. Control of the pitch and pulse dynamics, and shared psychedelic awareness, allow both the tribal and techno pioneers to shape the experiences of individuals and groups.

Although Kent veers into the anecdotal at times, his grasp on the science—and its application to the subjective and untested nature of traditional and modern shamanistic culture—appears to be solid. His investigation into the pursuit of power, the shaman’s skill at assessing the vibrational state of a patient, and his or her ability to vibrationally heal and/or injure may become subjects for critical assessment at some future time when the relationship between the Newtonian/Rational and Quantum/Transpersonal frameworks is better understood. For this, Kent deserves a place next to Grof on the psychonaut’s, scientist’s, and psychologist’s bookshelf.

Sheldon Norberg
Director – Progressive Drug Educators
Author – Confessions of a Dope Dealer

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